The practice of bloodletting goes back 3,000 years. In fact, this ancient medical practice was so revered for centuries that it’s only since the 19th century that the practice fell into disfavor. Bloodletting involves withdrawing blood from a patient to cure an illness or disease, often using leeches. Though modern medical science largely discredits the practice, some practitioners still use it occasionally to treat conditions like polycythemia and hemochromatosis, and leeches still play a role in some plastic and reconstructive surgery procedures.


1. It All Began with the Hippopotamus

The practice of bloodletting goes back to ancient Egypt. An important ancient medical text written around 1550 B.C.E., the Ebers Papyrus, recorded the ancient Egyptian practice of bloodletting through scarification. According to historians, the practitioners witnessed hippopotami scratching themselves, apparently to relieve distress. However, the creature was not bleeding -- the observers confused the creature’s red sweat with blood.

bloodletting hippos Lingbeek / Getty Images


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